Why We Need to Change the Way We Talk about Homelessness


This paper discusses findings from the first ever large-scale study on public attitudes to homelessness in the UK. While experts believe that ‘homelessness’ encompasses a wide range of insecure housing situations and some groups are at higher risk of homelessness than others, public attitudes and action towards the issue do not appear to follow suit. The research used four sources of data – 15 expert interviews; 20 in-depth cultural models interviews and 30 on-the-street interviews; and media content analysis of a sample of 333 organisational and media materials about homelessness – to examine how we can communicate in a way that deepens public understanding, attracts new supporters and builds demand for change. Findings reveal that public opinion tends to overlook the relationship between homelessness and poverty or other structural causes in favour of a more fatalistic view that blames individual circumstances and poor choices. Implications for communications are discussed and what the sector needs to do to convince people that homelessness is an issue that can be tackled. The paper’s overall conclusion is that organisations or campaigners need to adopt a more strategic approach to communications – too often we concentrate on raising awareness without translating that awareness into action.

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Journal Name: 
European Journal of Homelessness